Minister wants better land deals for farmers

After the recent spate of land-acquisition controversies, heavy industries minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has told the industry to adequately compensate displaced farmers

Concerned over the unrest regarding land acquisition, heavy industries and public enterprises minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on Friday asked the industry to adequately compensate displaced farmers, reports PTI.

"I personally feel that if you acquire land, it should be properly compensated as land is the main source of farmers' bread and butter," Mr Deshmukh said at the National Manufacturing Summit, organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce at New Delhi.

He said that Parliament is likely to take up amendments to the land-acquisition laws in the budgetary session.

With farmers and political parties agitating over land acquisition in different parts of the country, acquiring land for new investments has become a challenge for industries.

Investment plans of many companies, including the Tata Group, Reliance Industries, Posco and ArcelorMittal, have been affected by land-acquisition problems.

The new policies will focus on giving a fair compensation—determined by market price—to farmers, instead of the government finalising the package.


Reliance Retail JV to open outlet at Aditya Birla's 'More'

The JV in which Reliance Retail has 50% stake will move into rival Aditya Birla Group's 'More' hypermart by opening an outlet in Baroda on Saturday

Vision Express, the joint venture (JV) between Reliance Retail and Dutch optical retailer Pearle Europe, on Friday said that it is embarking on an expansion spree with plans to open 60-70 outlets every year and tap large format stores and malls, reports PTI.

Interestingly, in a significant departure from the earlier strategy of opening outlets either in a standalone format or in Reliance Retail's stores, the JV in which the Mukesh Ambani-promoted retailer has 50% stake, will move into rival Aditya Birla Group's 'More' hypermart by opening an outlet in Baroda tomorrow.

"Our plan is to open 60-70 outlets every year. For that, going forward, some of the areas we are looking to tap are the malls and large format stores," Vision Express chief executive Guillame Brouwet told PTI.

He, however, refused to share the company's investment plans.

Asked about the significance of the Baroda outlet at More's hypermart, Mr Brouwet said, "We will tap all avenues (irrespective of who is running the mall) provided they are positioned in the same price point as us."

Vision Express is Europe's largest optical chain and offers its expertise in several countries across the world.


S&P puts Bharti Airtel's CCR on negative watch due to Zain bid

The ratings agency expects a significant deterioration in Bharti Airtel's cash flow protection measures and a weakening of the company's business risk profile if the Indian company acquires Zain Africa

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said that it had placed India-based telecommunications service provider Bharti Airtel Ltd's 'BBB-' long-term corporate credit rating (CCR) on CreditWatch with negative implications following the company's proposed bid for Zain Africa BV.

"The CreditWatch reflects our expectation of a significant deterioration in Bharti's cash flow protection measures and a weakening of the company's business risk profile if it acquires Zain Africa," said S&P's credit analyst Yasmin Wirjawan.

A potential debt-funded acquisition and the near-term 3G license auction in India could increase the company's pro-forma consolidated debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) to about 3.0x for the fiscal year ending 31 March 2011, from 1.4x for the 12 months ended 31 December 2009, it said.

"Bharti's business risk profile could weaken because of the macroeconomic and political risks associated with, and the lower profitability of Zain Africa's operations," said Ms Wirjawan. Zain Africa's EBITDA margins were about 33% for the nine months ended 30 September 2009, compared with Bharti's 45% for the 12 months ended 31 December 2009.

S&P said in its opinion that the proposed transaction would provide Bharti with meaningful growth opportunities in Africa, which has a relatively low mobile penetration. Zain Africa has close to 42 million subscribers in the continent. It expects the combined entity to benefit from economies of scale as it would have a leading position in many of the African markets as well as India.

The ratings agency said Zain Africa would also gain from Bharti's experience of running efficient operations in a highly competitive environment and generating good margins and it believes the transaction will face limited integration risk as the two companies have almost no overlapping operations.

S&P said that in its view, Bharti's liquidity is adequate, and it expects the company to be able to raise funds for the proposed acquisition.


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